(represented by Augustus Cullen & Son, Solicitors)
SKL Hair Company Ltd
(represented by Michael G. Mooney & Co., Solicitors)
Equal Status Act 2000 - Direct discrimination, section 3(1)(a) - Traveller community ground, section 3(2)(i) - Supply of goods and services, section 5(1) - Refusal of service in a Hair Salon.
Delegation under the Equal Status Act, 2000
This complaint was referred to the Director of Equality Investigations under the Equal Status Act 2000. In accordance with her powers under section 75 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 and under the Equal Status Act 2000, the Director has delegated the complaint to myself, Brian O'Byrne, an Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part III of the Equal Status Act, 2000.
This dispute concerns a complaint by Nellie Connors that she was discriminated against, contrary to the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004, by the SKL Hair Company Ltd, Wicklow Town on the Traveller community ground when she was refused service on 9 October 2002.
The complainant maintains that she was discriminated against in terms of sections 3(1) and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Act 2000 in not being provided with a service which is generally available to the public contrary to Section 5(1) of the Act.
Summary of the Complainant's Case
The complainant states that on Wednesday 9 October 2002 she visited SKL Hair Company Ltd in Wicklow Town at 2.45 pm to have mesh highlights put in her hair. She asked a stylist at the counter whether she could do her hair there and then and what price it would cost. A price of €70 or €90 was quoted and agreed and Ms Connors was led to a seat.
The stylist then undid the plait Ms Connors had in her hair and brushed it out. She then walked away and returned with another staff member who told her she had a head lice infection. She felt very embarrassed and immediately left the salon. TThe complainant states that immediately afterwards she went to a different salon down the road, James Dowling Hairdressing, and asked that her hair be done with mesh highlights. She had no problem getting her hair done there by the stylist, Caitriona Kavanagh.
At the Hearing on 25 January 2006, Ms Connors said that she then went immediately to her solicitors, Augustus Cullen & Son who advised her to return to James Dowling Hairdressing and to obtain a note from them confirming that she did not have head lice. She said that she did as suggested immediately and obtained the note that evening.
Summary of Respondent's Case
The respondents totally reject that they operated a discriminatory policy against Travellers. They maintain that they were happy to provide Ms Connors with meshed highlights on the day in question and had asked her to take a seat to enable them to start the process. The stylist, Ms Joelene Flanagan, who had first dealt with Ms Connors on the day said at the Hearing that it was when she was about to start the treatment that she noticed evidence of head lice. In accordance with the Salon's standard practice, she immediately sought a second opinion from her Manager, Debbie Whelan, who confirmed that there was head lice present.
At the Hearing, Ms Whelan confirmed that she had been consulted by Ms Flanagan and that, on inspection of Ms Connor's hair, she also could see evidence of head lice. At that point, Ms Whelan informed Ms Connors that she had an infection and that they could not do her hair. She said that Ms Connors immediately got angry and abusive and left.
Evidence of witness, Caitriona Kavanagh
At the Hearing, Ms Kavanagh confirmed that she had provided Ms Connors with meshed highlights on 9 October 2002 and that her hair was clear of head lice that day. Ms Kavanagh did, however, make the point that it was the next day, and not that same afternoon, that Ms Connors had sought a note from her. This is confirmed in Ms Kavanagh's note which is dated 10 October 2002 and refers to Ms Connors receiving mesh treatment on 9 October 2002.
Other matters raised at the Hearing on 25 January 2006
At the Hearing, on realising that the date of the alleged discrimination, 9 October 2002, was a Wednesday, the respondents disputed whether this could be correct on the basis that Joelene Flanagan never worked on a Wednesday, as this was her day off. The respondents then produced statements, both written by Ms Flanagan and Ms Whelan in October 2002, stating that the incident occurred on Tuesday 8 October 2002 (although the date on Ms Flanagan's note appears to have been changed from 9 to 8 October). To support their contention that the incident could not have occurred on 9 October, the respondents offered to submit copies of their record of takings for the week in question subsequent to the Hearing.
Having discussed the issue as to the actual date of the alleged act of discrimination, a discussion then followed as to how quickly head lice could be successfully treated and there was general consensus that, with the treatments that are currently available, the condition could be gone in a matter of hours.
ote After the Hearing, the respondents submitted extracts form their accounts showing the takings for individual stylists for each day in October 2002. These records clearly show that Joelene Flanagan did not work on any Wednesday in October 2002 which the respondents claim supports their view that the incident occurred on Tuesday 8 October 2002.
Conclusions of the Equality Officer
Having considered the evidence before me, I find that a serious doubt has been raised in my mind as to the precise sequence of events that occurred around 9 October 2002. On the one hand, the complainant maintained that everything happened on the same day yet evidence has been produced to indicate that the sequence may have spanned three days i.e. that she may have visited the SK Hair Company on 8 October, James Dowling Hairdressing on 9 October and revisited the latter on 10 October 2002. This, in my opinion, weakens the complainant's case as the need for accuracy with regard to dates is essential in this instance in view of the fact that both parties agree that it is now possible to eliminate head lice in a matter of hours.
In addition, even if there was full agreement that the incident happened on 9 October 2002, I fail to understand why Ms Flanagan, if she wished to discriminate against Ms Connors, would have done so in the manner described. It is clear that Ms Connors arrived without an appointment and, therefore, if Ms Flanagan did not wish to serve her, the opportunity was there at the very outset for her to state that the salon could not accommodate Ms Connors that afternoon.
In support of the SK Hair Company's claim that they do not operate a policy of discrimination against Travellers, I also note that both the complainant and her sister stated at the Hearing that they had both been provided with service previously in the Salon.
For the reasons outlined above, I find that the complainant has failed to satisfy me, on the balance of probabilities, that she was discriminated against as alleged on the date claimed.
Accordingly, I find that the complainant has failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination in this instance.
I find that a prima facie case of discrimination has not been established by the complainant on the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1) and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004. Accordingly, I find in favour of the respondents in the matter.
18 May 2006